It’s taken me about a week to muster up the courage to write this blog post, not because I’m scared to share my thoughts and feelings over the internet, but because I’m just plain scared. I confess that it feels hypocritical to write anything from a posture of encouragement or inspiration when every time my phone buzzes I’m afraid it’s buzzing with some new worry or the painful news of another good thing being postponed or cancelled.
Like many of you, I’m sure, the coronavirus pandemic has left me feeling robbed of joy and hope as one by one the good things of Spring seem to be stripped away, leaving me wandering in a wilderness of uncertainty. What’s doubly frustrating is that this season of doubt comes right when I thought my own season of searching and waiting was over. Recently I’ve been waiting on the Lord to direct my path and show me whether I should continue teaching or pursue my PhD at Auburn this Fall. After months of prayer and seeking out an answer, months of trying to be patient and wait well, my answer arrived, and I began looking forward to a season of rest and celebration. I thought I knew what the future held, and more than anything, I thought this particular season of waiting was over.
Funny how a global pandemic didn’t figure into my plans at all!
Waiting on the Lord is certainly a theme we see a lot of in Scripture, and I sometimes feel like this principle is one that has defined my relationship with Jesus. Waiting for college admissions, waiting for job opportunities, waiting for relationships to bloom, waiting to see how a financial situation will work out—the list goes on and on. And just when I think I’ve mastered the concept of waiting on the Lord, He shows me that there are always more ways to wait.
I’m used to waiting in my own life, searching out answers and seeking advice from people I trust. But this new normal of coronavirus, social distancing, and quarantine is a completely different type of waiting—a communal waiting where our collective lives are put on hold in an attempt to avoid a growing crisis. As Americans, we chafe at the idea of waiting for anything, so to be thrust into a situation where daily life revolves around isolated patience is a huge change, and one that seems particularly painful. In our modern world, with free two-day shipping and instant streaming, we’ve lost the ability to wait together in hope.
I realized this last week as I was drinking my coffee and reading the book of Numbers. You might think the book of Numbers is an odd place to find encouragement, but who knows more about plagues and wilderness life than the Israelites? Numbers 9:22-23 say this:
“Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the LORD they camped, and at the command of the LORD they set out.”
I was immediately drawn to the first phrase of verse 22: “Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time.” It somehow cheered me to know that so many years ago the people of Israel were living, like us, in daily uncertainty. All they could do was fix their eyes on the cloud by day and fire by night and be ready at a moment’s notice.
Charles Spurgeon put it this way: “Happy people to be thus divinely guided! They could never tell when they would have to be on the move; they had no abiding city. When their tents were pitched, and they were just getting comfortably settled, perhaps that very morning the pillar of cloud moved; and, at other times, when they desired to be marching, it stood still. They could never be certain of staying long in any one place.”
Is there any better way of phrasing how this pandemic finds us? Some of us were just starting to feel comfortably settled while many others of us desire to be marching towards all we had planned in this season of life. For some reason, all of our plans have fallen by the wayside and we are forced to camp together in what seems like a worldwide wilderness.
But Spurgeon continues, “It is just so with you and with me; our Lord intends to keep us with a loose hold on all things here below. We cannot tell what changes may come to any one of us; therefore, reckon on nothing that God has not plainly promised. Be certain of nothing but uncertainty; and always expect the unexpected. You cannot tell between here and heaven where your Guide may take you; happy will you be if you can truly say that you desire ever to follow where the Lord leads.”
That may not be the kind of cheery encouragement we long for—“be certain of nothing but uncertainty,” and “expect the unexpected”—but just like the children of Israel, we can be certain of our Guide. Would it be a little easier if we had a cloud by day and a fire by night to guide us? Probably, but the Israelites still found plenty of ways to grumble. Instead, let’s work together in this waiting time to remind each other (and ourselves!) to reckon firmly on all that God has plainly promised. There is an end to this season, and we will get there together!